A plaque honoring the most famous Illinois football player of them all, halfback Red Grange, adorns a giant stone block behind the north end zone at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill.
Grange played his last game for the Illini 90 years ago. The game has evolved in myriad ways since then, but a good running back remains a big part of a winning recipe. No. 3 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) has that in Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed 27 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns Saturday in a 28-3 victory.
Elliott is Ohio State’s greatest and most consistent offensive threat. Here’s how the Buckeyes graded in rushing and other areas:
Rushing offense: Elliott may not win the Heisman Trophy this season, but he’s on his way to earning an invitation to the ceremony in New York. He has 15 straight 100-yard games.
The Buckeyes leaned on Elliott in the second half after he rushed nine times for 47 yards in the first half.
“We went tempo,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “The offensive line, the coaching staff felt, were starting to wear them down. That’s usually what happens to good teams in the second half. They were punching the line of scrimmage. Obviously, he’s a workhorse. The majority of games this year, teams do a good job of taking him away, and he gets stronger as the game goes on.”
Meyer said the Buckeyes want to run for 250 yards every game. They gained 287 in this one with an average rush of 5.7. It was their third-highest rushing total of the season. Grade: A+
Passing offense: J.T. Barrett returned to starting role at quarterback after a one-game suspension. He completed 15 of 23 passes for 150 yards. He threw one interception on a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. He also lost a fumble.
The big pass play eluded Barrett. His longest pass was a 24-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas in the first quarter. Grade: C.
Rushing defense: The Buckeyes limited Illinois to 20 yards on the ground. Entering the game, the Illini averaged 144.3 yards per game. Ohio State gave up 261 total yards, their best effort in Big Ten play this season.
“We take a lot of pride in getting stops,” defensive end Tyquan Lewis said. “We always try to go three-and-out every possession. Anything’s possible on the football field. That’s what we live by. We live by three-and-out stops and get off the field on first down.”
Linebacker Raekwon McMillan led the defense with 14 tackles. Linebacker Joshua Perry added nine. Defensive end Joey Bosa had three of the team’s 11 tackles for a loss. Grade: A+
Passing defense: Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt completed 23 of 47 passes for 241 yards. Ohio State sacked him three times. Entering the game, the Illini were averaging 240 yards through the air, ranking fifth in the Big Ten.
This was not Illinois’ worst offensive game of the season. Penn State shut it out 39-0 on Oct. 31. Grade: A
Special teams: Urban Meyer announced a change a placekicker last week. Sean Nuernberger, last year’s starter, returned to the starting role in place of Jack Willoughby. Nuernberger missed a 24-yard field goal on Ohio State’s first drive.
Cameron Johnston punted five times, pinning Illinois inside the 20 four times and averaging 44.4 yards per punt.
Illinois did a good neutralizing the threat of Jalin Marshall. The Illini punted six times. Marshall fielded only one and returned it one yard. Grade: B